Al Norte: Vigo, Ribadavia y Ourense

December 2019 —

This adventure all started with my desire to see Galicia, one of the greenest, most moist, and distinctive regions of Spain! I knew that I really wanted to visit the oceanside port city of Vigo, but I wasn’t sure about other possible destinations along the way. I had a long weekend off from teaching for a Spanish holiday, and planned a 3 day, 2 night trek northwards by train. I was eager to see a region of Spain that I really had not visited very much, and so I researched what other locations would be synonymous with train travel.

It is around this time, that I discovered my new favorite Spanish wine, Albariño, which is sweeter but not too sweet with notes of citrus and stone fruits. This grape grows in the Northwestern region of Galicia, and there are prominent vineyards all over, specifically in the little town of Ribadavia. In addition, the city of Ourense has lovely sweeping river views with several bridges, hazy horizons, and a lots of gorgeous architecture.

As there are no high speed trains to Vigo yet, this was a 7 hour train ride each way! I knew that I needed to be prepared, so I brought lots of snacks, downloaded some podcasts, and clipped my neck pillow onto my backpack. For this three day trek I brought only my NorthFace backpack and my fanny pack tucked inside of my jacket. I planned to make the most out of my weekend, so I took extra time to plan out absolutely every aspect of my journey. This included where the best sights are, what sort of routes are the best for walking, how to get to and from the vineyard in Ribadavia, and walking routes to and from each train station to each hostel I stayed at.

Fun Fact: Galicia is one of the regions in Spain with its own language aside from Castilian Spanish. Native Galicians speak Gallego as well, thus most of the signs, maps, ads, and people converse in Gallego primarily, followed by 
Castilian Spanish. 

 

My Trek

On the Friday I was leaving Madrid, I woke up early, ate breakfast, and grabbed the metro to the Charmartín Station in the northern part of the city. My train was leaving around 7:20 a.m. so I arrived to the station just after 7 a.m.. I was due to arrive at the Vigo Guixar station around 1 p.m.. One of the awesome parts of using trains to get around Spain, is that they are super efficient! Meaning there is no baggage checking, no waiting in long lines to board, and you can arrive as late as 5 minutes before your train is due to leave and still board!

Town by town, and city by city, the train gained in elevation, until at one point there was snow and frozen puddles, a real treat for me! When I finally arrived in Vigo it was just after 1 p.m., and as soon as I got off the train I headed for my hostel. One of the geographical characteristics of Vigo is that the whole city is centered around the port, and the shores around the port are very steep and hilly, thus it was quite an upward hull to get to my hostel. About 20 minutes later I arrived at the Kaps Hostel Vigo where I would stay for the night. This hostel has a great location, solid prices, a full kitchen and amenities, FREE breakfast, large common rooms, decent clean rooms, and HOT WATER! I capitalised the ‘hot water’ because this is something that will be a total lifesaver on your trip! It is such a divine wonder to be able to take a hot shower to warm up. I have stayed at some bad hostels that did not have this, and it was definitely a disappointment after being cold and damp all day. I really liked this hostel and all the staff were friendly! I stayed in an all female 4-bed room, and I felt safe the entire time!

After I got settled into my room, I grabbed a few things, and struck out for the open streets of Vigo. There were essentially two things I wanted to see, the first was to visit the Parque Monte do Castro, and the second was the Praia de Samil. The Parque Monte do Castro is essentially a historic hilltop park that was situated to evade seaside enemy attacks back in the day. Thus there is a really cool old fort with cannons, statues, and bunker like structures on the tippy top section of the hill called Castelo do Castro. The best part about this fort is that the admission is free, and one can simply just stroll about looking at the awesome views from afar!

Next I wanted to check out the wonderful white sand beaches of Vigo’s Atlantic Ocean coast. I chose the Praia de Samil because it is one of the most well known beaches for having stunning orange sunsets, and it is not too far away from he main part of the city. From the Castelo do Castro, I walked down the hill a few blocks to a bus stop to catch a bus to this beach. It was a nice walk considered it was about 55 degrees Fahrenheit outside. Hopping on the bus couldn’t be easier and the bus driver was very nice. I told him where I wanted to go in Spanish and he told me he’d take me to the best stop to start walking the beach. When I got off the bus it was probably about 5 p.m., and I still had a couple hours to till the sunset completely. I immediately photographed a distant lighthouse and started collecting some mini seashells. One of my favorite surprises came when I walked out onto a pile of rocks, and looked down to see a massive orange starfish!!! I had never seen a starfish this large!!! He was probably a full foot wide with many arms.

After walking up and down the length of the beach, I settled into a good spot for the sunset, had a snack, and soaked in the salty crisp air. Upon the sun setting it got dark fast, and I chose to catch another bus back to my hostel, which took nearly an hour. That night I pre-packed all of my things to depart early the next morning. I had to catch a 7:30 a.m. train from the Vigo Guitar station to the small town of Ribadavia, about 40 minutes East of Vigo by train. One thing I didn’t account for was the time differences, because when I pulled into the station it was still completely dark outside. This is attributed to the fact that this region of Galicia should be an hour behind the rest of Spain due to its geographic location, but instead the Spanish mainland is all one timezone. This was okay, because it afforded me the unique opportunity to hear an early morning rooster crow in the Spanish countryside!

As I walked thru the town from the train station, the distant horizons were beginning to lighten and I found an open cafe to grab a croissant and coffee. While I waited for it to be daylight I read an entire newspaper in Gallego! Interestingly enough, for the the most part if you can read Castilian Spanish, you can read Gallego. Then I proceeded to walk the length of the river that separates this super small town in half. There is a fairly extensive park and historic castle that stand out. This castle is quite cool and you can walk around the various outer walls which have now become part of the physical town itself. Around late morning, I stopped in a local market for some bananas, yogurt, and bread to eat for lunch. While I sat down to eat on a bench, I saw just how much fog there was in the air, and that in fact there was a small mountain uphill of the town that I hadn’t even noticed yet due to the thickness of the fog. Galicia is truly a green place, for no matter what angle I turned, it was filled with luscious trees, plants, and grasses.

Around 11 a.m., I caught a taxi to take me to the Viña Costeira Bodega for a wine tasting tour of my new favorite wine, Albariño. The ride was probably only 10 minutes, and the tour of both the wine making facilities, and vineyard itself were approximately an hour and a half. Apparently, most people drive themselves to the vineyard where the tour guide does their spiel, but since I had no car, the tour guide was kind enough to let me ride with her. When we arrived to the grape growing sight, it was breathtaking! There were little grape vines all over, and the views were super good! When the tour group returned, we all got to taste several different wines, along with cheese and crackers. This brand of wine, Viña Costeira, is extremely popular in Spain, and is perhaps the best brand of the Albariño wine that I have tasted!! If you are interested in taking a tour of the winemaking process, and tasting Albariño wines, Identity suggest checking out their website, https://costeira.wine.

Next I had to grab another taxi back to Ribadavia to catch the train to the city of Ourense. This was a super delightful 45 minute train ride with spectacular river valley views of vineyards and cute little Spanish houses dotting the hillsides. From the Ourense train station I walked downhill to where I was staying for my last night, the Albergue Augas Quentes hostel. This was not the hostel that I expected and I found the pictures to be very deceiving online comparatively to what it was. This was an albergue for people looking for the most minimal of places to stay. As it turned out, there was only a single large open room with nearly 30 beds, and the bathrooms were not clean. I will say that they did provide a free breakfast which was pretty good, but overall it was super cold and there was no hot water at all!! After traversing the city that evening, I was really cold and actually couldn’t warm up because there was no heat and no form of hot water to be found anywhere in this hostel, which was not advertised on the website!! I WOULD NOT STAY AT THIS HOSTEL, ALBERGUE AUGAS QUENTES! Lesson learned on my part, look for youth hostels over albergues, and always study the online photos super well!

Never the less, the next day I packed up my things, ate breakfast, and went out to explore the lovely city of Ourense. There were several sights that I wanted to see, and of course this city is known for the expansive amount of bridges that cross the Minho River which passes through its middle. I loved the river views, and the mystical nature of the city rising up from the lush green mountains!

The Catedral de Ourense, or Ourense Cathedral, is definitely worth visiting and it has a climbable belltower. There are lots of authentic and extremely detailed paintings and stained glass windows dating back as early as the 11th century. There are lots of cool stone designed streets and walkways along the Minho River, and in between the various historical structures. After visiting the cathedral I checked out a square that has thermal springs that were used for public bathing called As Burgas. If you walk from this square directly underneath the towering bridge above and to the other side, there are some nice hand painted wall murals, and a small stream with paths for walking. I believe the locals use them for daily exercising because they are away from the city center and throughout the whole length that I walked until I reached the Minho River, I only saw a total of three people.

Lastly, I walked over the Ponte Romana de Ourense, which is an extremely old Roman footbridge that I believe was first constructed as early as the first century A.D.. After traipsing around the city, I felt a great deal of hunger, and decided to go to a restaurant for a late afternoon lunch before walking to the train station for my 5 p.m. train back to Madrid. I chose an Italian pizza restaurant and proceeded to order a whole veggie pizza with eggplant, onions, black olives, peppers, and extra cheese. From there it was only about a 20 minute walk to the station, which ended my journey well because the closer I got to the station, the higher I was in elevation, meaning the views of the city only got better and better!

 

Travel Tips

In Vigo there is another place that I truly wanted to visit but did not have time because of how short my trip is. Just off the coast of the port bay of Vigo, there are several nature reserve islands that form an archipelago called Las Cíes. They are absolutely pristine, with limited visitations per year, and ferry boat access only. If you love hiking, watching magnificent sunsets, swimming in secluded areas, or just exploring uncharted lands, these islands would be for you! They are super amazing, and I was sad that I couldn’t visit them when I was in Vigo.

For some reason, I no sooner arrived to my hostel in Ourense when my phone stopped working on data, I tried to upload more time but it wasn’t cooperating on the less than ideal hostel wifi. So I utilized a foldable paper map that I received when checking in as my means of navigating. Finding your way around the streets of an unfamiliar city with solely a paper map is really great survival practice! I personally like to use landmarks to aid me in going the right direction and determining where I have and haven’t been. This was a really good example of planning ahead, being prepared, and resourceful paid off because it is inevitable that either something won’t go exactly right or that technology may fail, and to conquer said problem you’ll need to be creative!

Something to consider, for some reason the type of train I was on for my return was a slower type, and it seemed as if it took forever to return to Madrid. Therefore, when booking a train ticket be sure to examine what type of train you are booking and note the timing differences between types.

For more great tips on train travel, packing, staying safe, and planning ahead, check out some of my other posts. : )

  1. Minimize: Pack lighter & Smarter
  2. Plan Ahead: Do More & Worry Less
  3. Budgeting: Where to Stay & How To Get There
  4. Be Smart, Vigilant & Observant

My journey north was truly wonderful, filled with diverse scenery, lots of hills, and a few rain showers. I would say that Vigo is a super awesome city that should definitely be explored to the maximum, and actually if I had had more time I would've spent tow nights there. In spite of that, I really loved taking the train and I am very thrilled to have visited Ribadavia and Ourense! 

 

~ Vigo ~

 

~ Ribadavia ~

 

~ Ourense ~

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